Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Notes from Kapwa 3

Notes from the Kapwa 3 Conference
Baguio City, June 26, July 2, 2012

I have been struggling to write these notes from the Kapwa 3 conference because in so many ways, the event couldn't really be captured in words. You just had to be there. Present. Embodied. Because what the body experiences teaches the mind to wrestle with one's intellectual preoccupations; it teaches the soul to rest in the wisdom of the body; it teaches the heart to break wide open.  When the gongs and the drums start and you see the IPs begin to form a circle and dance, you can't help but join in. Your feet will take you there and you begin to move, at first in imitation of the IPs, and then your body finds its own rhythm and you begin to move from your inner being. You are joyful. You are wordless. You don't want to stop. Something stirs you deeply. It feels ancient. It feels good. You are glad to be there.
During the pre-conference, the different schools of living traditions set up their spaces at VOCAS and displayed their beautiful arts and crafts. Mangyan, Talaandig, Ata, Panay Bukidnon, Tiboli, Palaw'an, Subanen, Manobo, Kalinga, Ifugao. Basketry, bead jewelry, handsewn blouses, necklaces and armbands, embroidery, handcarved bamboo flutes, soil paintings, woven tapestries, bird whistles. Colors everywhere! Dazzling Beauty!
Naturally, our group from the US and Canada was ecstatic from this display of indigenous beauty. We filled our backpacks with purchases and we kept coming back for more. We made friends with the IPs; we had long extended conversations. I saw some of the young ones sitting at the feet of the IP elders listening to their stories. The young IPs, on the other hand, relished their chats with our group -- sharing their dream of getting educated, their stories of pride in their ethnic festivals and their schools of living tradition. This Kapwa 3 was specially focused on the IP youth -- to bring them into the wide circle of the country's IP communities -- so they may get to know IPS from other tribes. There were workshops that trained them how to teach others about their cultural practices and beliefs through the medium of performing arts. Then they were given the opportunity to perform at different high schools around Baguio City.
The first three days of Kapwa3 were devoted to these open interchange amongst all the various groups that included us. At the center stage, there were various IP speakers - Datu Vic of the Talaandig, Manong Fred of the Panay Bukidnon, Maria Todi of the Tiboli; they were joined by invited speakers like Dennis Banks, Aniishinabe founder of the American Indian Movement, representatives of the Karen tribe from Thailand, Ainu representatives from Japan. Storytelling, chanting, drumming, dancing -- filled all of our senses with an ineffable satisfaction.
The ABS-CBN crew who has been documenting the event, at one point, stopped to tell me that they are so awed and overwhelmed by their experience that they didn't know how to condense it all into a 30-minute documentary. How can this event be framed and communicated to urban city-folks without portraying IPs as "other" or as commodified cultural objects, or as endangered exotic cultures. We had a chance to talk about Kapwa: what would the disappearance of our indigenous cultures, languages, peoples mean for urban city folks? If we are each other's Kapwa, wouldn't those losses be ours as well? What do we all lose? What does it all mean? Such questions are so fecund. Must keep asking them.
The academic part of the conference began on the third day. The University of the Philippines in Baguio hosted this part of Kapwa 3. Students filled the auditorium. Academics presented papers on Kapwa psychology, research on indigenous practices, educational issues, on IP advocacy issues. Each day of the conference began and ended with ritual. We learned a lot from the wealth of knowledge shared by scholars from around the country. Oh, did you know that the Department of Education in the Philippines now has an "Office of IP Education"? How cool is that? It's about time.
There were also off-site events. One day we all rode in jeepneys to go to the Bencab Museum. This is a destination! It houses indigenous arts of the Northern tribes as well as Bencab's works and those of other artists. For Kapwa 3, there were several local indigenous artists whose woodcarving, sculptures, and other works were exhibited for this event. Yes - there was dancing and drumming there as well!
After the trip to Bencab Museum we proceeded to a new art-site in Baguio which is still under construction. There was a canao that night that lasted till midnight. The youthful ones stayed behind and enjoyed the verbal jousting and exchange of chants between the IP groups.
Another night we watched Busong which was introduced by the filmmaker himself, Aureaus Solito. In another part of the city, at Padma's bookstore, Dr. Mend-ooyo, Mongolian poet, read from his works and shared his paintings as well. I shared the evening with him and read from the Babaylan book.
Btw, the food served throughout the conference was catered by Oh My Gulay's indigenous chef... Everyday we ate gourmet healthy vegetarian meals. The merienda was likewise just as delicious and nourishing. Lemon grass and pandan tea flowed freely.
It rained everyday mostly in the afternoons. It is the monsoon season after all. But there were all-day rains all day. Sometimes Baguio was wrapped in fog. So we had it all -- warm sun, cool rain, foggy days. But nothing dampened the spirit and energy of Kapwa 3.
We were able to gather our US and Canada group twice for brief sharing of how we were feeling, what we were thinking. Alas, there was not enough time to process it all. Even now, we are still processing and this will be an ongoing work for a long time.
Kapwa2 in 2008 opened a portal in myself that I didn't even know was closed but could now, in hindsight, be grateful for that opening.  I saw this happen again to the Kapwa 3 folks for whom this is a first-time encounter with IPs. All manner of questions, of inarticulable feelings, of sensations, of waking up -- it was all there. It was hard to contain. It was spilling over.
The cultural tour was cancelled due to heavy rains so we all gathered at Katrin's in Tuding after the conference. Here we were able to circle up again and talk a little bit more about our experiences, our dreams, our "what's next?" Katrin mentioned the role that folks in the diaspora might have in the sustainability of Kapwa conferences as well as the sustainability of efforts to make a difference in the lives of IP youth. She said that a scholarship fund exists to help fund IP scholars. It is a reality that IP communities need to have members who can negotiate with entities (government, NGOs, nonprofits), can do accounting, and other skills needed to help their communities navigate their way in a world that is encroaching upon their ancestral domains, their rights, their way of life.
I said something about how our peak experiences at Kapwa3 will fade as we return to the US and resume our daily lives...but now we have had these experiences and they've made a difference in our consciousness, and we would like to incorporate these into our waking world. What shall we do to honor our commitments to ourselves, to the IP communities we said we would support? What shall we do to remind ourselves daily of our connection to the homeland and to the IPs? For we are connected...in ways so deep that we may not yet be fully aware of. How do we grow that awareness?
I relish the moments now of being able to see those FB images of Kapwa 3. I will continue on posting some more notes as time permits. For now, enjoy this first one...
Wish you were there...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ayn Rand: I loved you once

Yes, that's right. There was a time in my life when I thought that Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were great stories. I loved the hero, Howard Roark, for his refusal to compromise his principles, his dedication to his art/architecture, his "selfishness."

I was young then. I was an evangelical Christian. I was grasping for a story that would help me shore up my apparent lack of ability to assert my individualistic self. I was a newly arrived immigrant and reading the novels helped me to develop the "art of selfishness" so that I could put up with this culture. In turn, it was also suffocating my sense of Kapwa but undecolonized as I was then, I thought I had no choice. I was wrong.

Well, I can be gracious towards Ayn Rand and say that this "art of selfishness" was a roundabout route to my decolonization. Precisely because it didn't work, I was, slowly and surely, led out of the dark tunnel so I could make my way back to the value of Kapwa.

So I was rather surprised when I read that conservative Christians were loving Ayn Rand. Christianity is about compassion, not selfishness. But, of course, it's more complicated than that. Once evangelical Christians wedded their faith to their sense of patriotism, it became easier to find a metanarrative that would rationalize their belief. The USA is God's chosen country. It is founded on white/Eurocentric values; it is English-speaking. It was built on the foundation of individualism, competition, survival of the fittest. That is why they love Ayn Rand. Selfishness here means: My country is being invaded by people who are not like us. These immigrants are not from Europe. They have different values and beliefs. They will destroy our country eventually if we do not protect our own.

This sense of ownership, of entitlement is what people who love Ayn Rand cling to. I have relatives who love Ayn Rand. They can't stand the idea that we are now in a "post-America" world (as Fareed Zakaria argues in his book of the same title) and that the US is no longer no. 1, nor considered as relevant as it once was in the eyes of the rest of the world.

My relatives blame higher education (too liberal!), they blame homosexuals (it's a sin!), they blame people of color (they come from third world countries!), they blame poor people (they are lazy!). Yes, they admit that they believe in American exceptionalism.  They are angry because they perceive something is being taken away from them. This fear of losing their something is what I feel fuels the fear-mongering that has engulfed the airwaves. This fear is not capable of historical analysis nor reflection. The shadow material that fuels this fear remains unconscious that is why it is so emotionally potent. Nothing sells like Fear in the dying days of manic capitalism.

I generally do not watch television anymore but when I was asked my opinion about Paul Ryan, I felt that I should be informed before I open my mouth. I read that Paul Ryan loves Ayn Rand and makes her books required reading for his staff. And I can see how this empowers Paul and gives him that charisma - the single-minded pursuit of his own truth (about the deficit, medicare, etc).  Howard Roark, Ayn Rand's hero, however, never went into politics. There is the difference. And plus, Ayn Rand was an atheist...so there.

Ahh! I did love Ayn Rand once, too.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

An Offering to the Holy Composter of Grief

    On behalf of our sons and daughter
    On behalf of a family history of grief
    On behalf of generational trauma
    On behalf of a History that wrote itself into the script of those tropical islands 
    On behalf of the civilization that wounds us

    I beseech the Ancestors on the other side who hear us
     Please hear the music of our lamentations
     See the beauty we are trying to create out of the cracks of this modern life
     Feel the depths of our soul in our elegant struggle to be beautiful and whole

     One Son  creates beauty in the patch of land he lives on
     Soul is nourished by the colors and the energies of the plant beings
     Equally sensitive to   his touch and loving attention
     And as for the litany of feelings of rejection, disrespect, disaffection 
     May these be washed in the knowing that one's true nature is not these.
     If patience and endurance is the fate of this lifetime
     May the love that he gives be returned by the divine source in the heart of Nature
    As for a mother's tears
    This, too,  is a blessing
     To share in the fate of so many
     Without succumbing to the seduction of self-pity, shame, guilt
     Beauty is still the song in our lips.